Archive article from The Socialist Issue 313
Build a movement against the occupation of Iraq
On 15 February 30 million people took part in the biggest worldwide movement in history. We were trying to stop the brutal conquest of Iraq. Everything that has happened since has proved we were right…
Can the occupation be stopped?
The biggest demonstrations in world history didn’t stop the warmongers occupying Iraq. Inevitably, many people wonder whether this means we are powerless to change things.
But to draw such a conclusion would be a big mistake. The New York Times accurately described the anti-war movement as a ‘second super-power’: a super-power which left Blair hanging by a thread.
After two million marched on the streets of London Blair was preparing to retreat. As Rumsfeld blurted out, the possibility of British troops playing no role was being discussed behind the scenes. And Blair also warned his children they may have to leave Downing Street – because his career as PM could be over.
At that time, when the government was shaken to its core by the scale of our movement, further action could have stopped Britain’s support for the war. The Socialist Party campaigned for workers’ organisations to follow the magnificent example of the school student strikes, and for the next step to be a 24-hour work stoppage against the war.
Without doubt, if the trade union leaders had called for such a stoppage, it would have had mass support from working people. If it had taken place Britain would have stopped for the day and Blair could have been forced to resign.
It is true that even this could not have necessarily stopped the war. Once Bush had committed the US to attacking Iraq it would have been a devastating blow to the power and prestige of US imperialism to retreat. It would have taken an almighty movement in the US itself to force them to accept such a blow.
Nonetheless, the anti-Iraq war movement has left a legacy of fear in the minds of Bush, Blair and company. We have to help make those fears a reality.
Iraq is being subject to old-style colonial occupation.
The people of Iraq have already made it abundantly clear that they will not accept this. Neither will many of the ordinary Western soldiers, who are living and dying in horrific conditions in order to defend the oil wells for BP, Shell and the rest of the sharks.
Yet Bush and his cohorts cannot bomb and leave, as they did in reality, in Afghanistan. The strategic and economic interests of US imperialism mean they are under huge pressure to establish a stable client regime. Yet, this will be enormously difficult for them to achieve. The prospect is raised of a prolonged occupation, with growing opposition within Iraq and in the West.
The parallels with Vietnam, where the anti-war movement in the US played a key role in forcing the US to pull out, are clear. But there are important differences – not least that anti-war mood in the US and in other countries is growing at a far earlier stage than it did in Vietnam. And, after the experience of Vietnam, workers and ordinary people in the US will be far less tolerant of their sons and daughters being returned in body bags.
Build the anti-war and anti-Blair movement - but what is the alternative?
September 27 should be the first step in building a mass movement against the occupation of Iraq. Come on the demonstration and build for it in your school, college or workplace.
But we also need to go beyond that. We need a political alternative to New Labour that is capable of replacing the warmongers and of leading mass action against imperialist war. Even if Blair is replaced by Brown, New Labour will remain a party of big business, which spends its time protecting the profits of British Petroleum and their ilk, whilst destroying public services and attacking the living conditions of working-class people.
And the other mainstream political parties are no better. Even the Liberal Democrats, whose leadership claimed to be against the war before started, showed a very different face once it had begun. Charles Kennedy argued that he had no choice but to support the war once it had started because of his loyalty to the British troops on the ground.
Yet there is now growing discontent amongst British troops about their living conditions and the constant threat to their safety because they are part of an unpopular occupying force.
Many would undoubtedly have preferred Charles Kennedy to show his ‘loyalty’, as we and the anti-war movement have done, by arguing that they should be bought home instead of supporting a brutal imperialist war.
We need a completely different kind of party: a new mass party that stands up for the interests of working-class people instead of the billionaires. The Socialist Party is fighting for such a party - a party that brings together the anti-war movement, trade unionists, anti-privatisation campaigners and the anti-capitalist movement.
Struggle for socialism
The struggle for a planet without war goes beyond the struggle against Bush’s ‘war on terror’. Conflict and instability are increasingly the norm in this capitalist profit system that is beset by crisis.
The big imperialist powers have always gone to war to defend the profits of their rich elites, as was summed up by a US Strategic Planner in 1948 when he said of the US:
To permanently end the threat of war and terror we have to fight for the end of capitalism and for the establishment of a democratic socialist world run in the interests of the billions instead of for the profits of the billionaires.